My Drive this week was Nissan’s second generation Qashqai, the new name and replacement for the Dualis crossover. We first got the original Dualis all the way back in 2007, and back then Nissan was just feeling out the relatively new crossover category. You can see the results of that labour in the second generation of this car, which arrived on Australian shores a couple of years ago. All wheel drive has now been dropped, with the Qashqai a strictly front wheel drive offering. Only five percent of Dualis buyers were going after all wheel drive, so it’s a pretty prudent decision. The seven seat option box has also been deleted – you’ll now need to go up to the Nissan X-Trail if you want more than five seats.

The car’s design has been refined further, with a sharp and classy look that brings it into line with Nissan’s current design language. The cabin interior has also gotten a good dose of touching-up, with soft-touch materials in places and a reasonable amount of leg room, especially in the front where the seats and steering wheel are quite flexible for adjustment. The back seats are a little stiffer, with a relatively flat back seat bench, although leg room is still adequate. There’s good odds-and-ends storage throughout the cabin, with bottle holders in each door, four cup holders and several other pockets throughout. In terms of cargo space, the storage area at the back can hold 430 litres with the seats up, growing to 1,585 litres with them down. Not bad at all.

The Qashqai is available with two different power plants, a 2.0 litre petrol engine as well as a 1.6 litre turbo diesel motor. The petrol unit produces 106 kW of power and 200 Nm of torque, while the turbo diesel gets 96 kW and 320 Nm. As usual, the petrol engine does better on power while the diesel is more torquey and pulls harder from lower in the rev range. Both engines come with a continuously variable transmission, while a six speed manual is also available with the petrol power plant.

My test car came with the petrol engine and CVT, which made for a very relaxed and smooth combination. The engine provides plenty of power for getting around town and suburban roads, but you’ll need to give it time if you’re shooting for motorway speeds from a standstill. The CVT is smart enough to rev up off the line, but quickly settles down into very low revs to reduce noise and fuel consumption as the car builds up speed. The Qashqai’s handling is balanced well, not overly sporty but soaking up most bumps on the road smoothly. The electric steering was a touch on the light side, although a sport setting in the menus lets you firm it up if you prefer things a little heavier.

Fuel economy was also pretty reasonable considering the powertrain and car’s weight of 1,400 kg. The official combined rating is 6.9 litres per 100 km, and I was able to achieve 8.4 litres in combined, mostly suburban driving.

The Qashqai is offered in two trim levels with each drivetrain for a total of four variants. Standard features are quite reasonable with 17 inch alloys, cruise control, electric parking brake, reversing camera and basic smartphone connectivity with Bluetooth included on the base ST model. Jumping up to more expensive variants will net you electrically-folding mirrors, rain sensing wipers, proximity keyless entry, LED headlights, climate control air and 360-degree camera monitoring when reversing.

The Nissan Qashqai retails from $25,850 for a petrol ST manual, topping out at $37,990 for a diesel automatic with all the bells and whistles. Remember, prices are before on-road costs, so expect to add another $3,000 or so before you get the car on the road.

In summary, the Qashqai is a solid improvement on its predecessor, with a design that’s acceptable to everyone, decent refinement and reasonable value for money; and while it might only be front wheel drive and five seats, I think most people interested in this car wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s it for me this week.

19 February 2016
Albert Malik

My Drive this week was the Subaru Forester. This car is one of the more popular compact off-road four wheel drives, and for the 2015 model year update Subaru made the drastic change of lowering prices across the range, with some variants dropping by as much as $3,500. The other hallmark addition was an automatic gearbox being added to diesel variants. This was a long time coming and should help boost the Forester diesel’s appeal.

The 4th generation Subaru Forester has been around with us for almost two years now, so the updated version I’m looking at today is the first update in this model’s history.

The exterior gets a single tweak – a shark fin radio antenna, which refines the look of the car just a little bit more. That’s the only exterior update.

Inside, the main change is the new, integrated centre console, which looks far better than the previous slot-in module and allows for a larger 7.0-inch LCD touchscreen. Other minor changes were made to add a more premium effect to the cabin, including the use of piano black and silver highlights. Otherwise you’ve still got the roominess and comfort the Forester previously offered – leg room is decent both front and back, while the load carrying capacity of 422 litres is quite generous.

So, let’s take a look at this new automatic box. Quick rundown first – the Forester’s 2.0 litre turbo diesel engine produces 108 kW of power and 350 Nm of torque. The automatic is a CVT, meaning unlimited ratios, although under strong throttle it will start imitating a stepped gearbox so that you feel like you’re going faster. It’s a trick, but most people like it, so that’s all that matters really. It’s a Subaru, meaning all four wheels are driven at all times, and fuel consumption officially averages 6.3 L/100km in combined driving.

Funnily enough, the Forester driving experience is quite similar to the Outback diesel I tested earlier this year. Off the mark performance is a bit average thanks to some turbo lag, but once you get going the strong torque of the diesel really comes into its own and gets you moving quickly. Kick-down reaction is quite decent, so overtaking manoeuvres on motorways are easy to execute. High speed driving is quite refined, although slightly noisier if you’re sitting in the back, and real-life fuel consumption is also reasonably close to the rated one, with my score being 6.9 L/100km (in combined usage).

The always-on four-wheel drive helps considerably for handling. The Forester is very well composed around corners, hooking admirably and staying pointed where you want it to go. The brakes also work well, pulling the car up quickly when needed.

Diesel Foresters are now available in two variants, the L and S. L model diesel Foresters get the 7.0-inch touchscreen I mentioned earlier as standard, as well as dual zone climate control air conditioning, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, multi-function display in the instrument cluster and USB/Bluetooth audio with Pandora support. The S adds to this with HID headlamps, proximity keyless entry, sunroof, satellite navigation, leather trim and electrically-adjustable front seats.

Pricing for the Forester range now starts from $29,990, although a diesel L starts from $33,490 with a manual gearbox. Throw in another $2,000 for automatic, while a fully-kitted S automatic will set you back $41,490. All prices are before on-road costs.

The Forester makes for a great family car, and it can certainly handle a reasonable amount of off-roading if you want to go camping or just enjoy the great outdoors. It’s on sale now.

19 September 2015
Albert Malik

My Drive this week was the Subaru Outback. The Outback is one of the early trend setters; it was one of the first, if not the first jacked-up wagon with underbody strengthening for off-roading, and it proved popular enough that many car companies have now copied the idea, bringing out similar models themselves. The Outback I’m looking at today is now in its fifth generation, and Subaru continues to refine the model, gradually improving all the little niggles people have pointed out on previous models. The result is a car that comes pretty close to perfect, although unfortunately is not quite there yet.

Let’s start with the exterior. Subaru has played it safe, choosing not to mess with the design mostly. The headlights and front grille have been reshaped a little, while the same can be said for the rear taillights and bumper design. Not much more to talk about here so let’s go inside. Here, it’s a different story. The interior has become a little bit more upmarket, although the quality of the materials used are a lot better now. The instrument cluster adopts the “two-dial, one screen” design being used by virtually everybody on the market, while the centre console has gone for a gloss black look with touch-sensitive buttons used to operate the infotainment system on its large LCD screen. While it’s better than previous generations, the processor is significantly underpowered, leading to delays between screen transitions in some cases, especially when using the navigation system.
The seats are supportive and there’s plenty of leg room in the front and back. The front seats offer a fair bit of adjustment in multiple directions, however the back seats can only be folded flat to add more room to the cargo space at the back, although at 512 litres it’s already quite decent.

There’s three engine options – a 2.5 litre four cylinder petrol, a 2.0 litre four cylinder turbocharged diesel, and a 3.6 litre six cylinder petrol. All of them are paired with a CVT automatic gearbox, although the diesel engine can also be mated to a six speed manual. My test car today is the diesel with CVT automatic, and at least from the spec sheet, I suspect this combination will be the pick to go for. The diesel produces 110 kilowatts of power and 350 Newton-metres of torque from as low as 1600 RPM. While this is really early in the rev range, the Outback diesel somehow still manages to have pretty bad turbo lag off the mark. This is the only stain on an otherwise excellent score sheet. Once you’re moving, the engine and CVT are both responsive. The CVT holds the engine in its most efficient rev-band for the application, but floor the pedal and it switches to a simulated old-fashioned transmission with fixed gears to eliminate the “droning effect” most people hate about CVTs. Not the most efficient way of accelerating, but a great way to get everyone on side.
Being a Subaru, power goes to all four wheels. Being an off-road car, Subaru has added a new thing called X-Mode, which combines hill descent control with active torque vectoring. While I wasn’t able to test it in the limited time I had the car, the idea is to carefully go down unsealed hills with lots of holes and other unsmooth terrain automatically.
Handling on sealed roads however was pretty decent, considering the jacked up nature of the Outback. At high speed the Outback is still reasonably quiet and generally a nice place to be.

The Outback is divided into two variants for each engine type – a base model and a Premium grade. Standard features on the base model include climate control air conditioning with rear air vents, cruise control, automatic wipers and headlights, electric parking brake, leather steering wheel with paddle shifts and a six speaker audio system with Bluetooth support. While the petrol models also get engine idle stop-start and Subaru’s Eyesight driver assist system standard, these are missing from the diesel model for some reason, which is a real shame. Premium variants add electrically adjustable front seats, a large sunroof, folding mirrors, proximity keyless entry, LED headlights and satellite navigation with support for the Pandora music streaming system.

The cheapest Outback variant is in fact the diesel manual, which starts from $35,490 dollars. Add $2,000 for the CVT automatic and $6,000 for the Premium variant. The Outback is on sale now.

April 25th 2015
Albert Malik